19 Mar 2021

Tropical fruit, coffee potential crops for winterless north

From Checkpoint, 5:53 pm on 19 March 2021

A Northland family is preparing to harvest the country's first ever commercial pineapple crop - and they are looking for more New Zealanders to grow the golden fruit and supply the country.

Linda and Owen Schafli moved to Whangārei from Hamilton 10 years ago with plans to grow tropical fruit, specifically bananas and pineapples.

Their vision was initially greeted by laughter from those they told, with not many people convinced it would work.

"Because it's never been done before here in New Zealand, people thought it could never be done," Linda said.

But eight years later, that vision is finally coming to fruition.

They have 22,000 pineapples in the ground and by the end of this year that will go up to 30,000.

This year they will harvest five to 10,000 fruit.

The pair's main crop is a gourmet pineapple called the Queen, which is particularly sweet with a core that can be eaten. 

The plan is to scale up to between 50,000 and 60,000 pineapples over the next couple of years.

Linda said it was important for them that the pineapples be spray-free.

"We want to supply New Zealand with a healthy pineapple that's good for them and spray-free and not these horrible gas-ripened ones."

Pineapples are not the only tropical fruit the Schafli's are growing - bananas, papayas, passionfruit, sugar cane, dragon fruit and even coffee fill up every inch of land they have got.

Owen said the conditions were great - but elsewhere Northland was not yet utilising its potential.

He said the East Coast and Hawke's Bay were the country's main fruit-growing hubs but tropical fruit could be Northland's point of difference.

"It would be nice if Northland started really shining and growing the things that it can grow." 

Tropical Fruit Growers association chair Hugh Rose agreed - he said planting pineapples in the north would be a great use of land - with plenty of volcanic soil - and sunshine hours.

"Pineapple is a desert plant but unlike lots of desert plants it actually likes rich soil - and slightly acidic as well - so they've actually got all the criteria sitting in Northland for growing pineapples, which we could be exporting."

The pineapples will initially be sold at the Whangārei growers' market but the Schaflis hope to eventually send them to Auckland and down to the South Island.